Loco Parentis: A Tangled Web

Technology is making it harder than ever to delete the past

I’M AFRAID MY kids may be remembered in ways they never intended. The technology they love, that they couldn’t live without, pushes sharing on them, blurs the lines of privacy. Their Facebook pages tell strangers way more than I want the world to know about them: their hometown, their favorite colors, songs, TV shows. After a nude photo of High School Musical teen queen Vanessa Hudgens popped up on the Internet last September, I felt a duty to warn my daughter not to post compromising pictures online.

Mom,” she said, pained.

“Delete doesn’t really mean delete,” I insisted. “You don’t want an employer to Google you someday and find something embarrassing.”  

I was speaking from experience, in a way. When my kids were little, I used to write historical romance novels, complete with heaving breasts and throbbing manhoods. It was something I could do in the evenings, after Marcy and Jake were asleep, and it brought in steady money, and it was fun. It was just a man and a woman and … embellishing.

Time passed. My interests changed. Marcy grew  old enough to go on dates, and I found myself reevaluating the concept of a literary genre dedicated to a woman’s need to land a man to be happy. I’d started writing essays about gender issues, parenting, education. I’d moved on. I didn’t talk about my novels. I sort of hoped they’d go away.

But with the Internet, nothing ever goes away. Not long ago, the women’s website Jezebel.com linked to an article I wrote about my kids. The Jezebel commenters are a bitchy lot, and before I read what they had to say about me, I toughened up my skin. Sure enough, they called me a bad mom, a mean mom, a psycho mom. The gibe that really stung, though, was from someone who’d done some Googling: “This lady writes romance novels for a living!”

There went my feminista credibility, just like that.

WE USED TO be able to escape our pasts, run ahead of them — or at least manipulate them. Along with Dad’s photos, I have his letters — letters he sent home during World War II, ones he got from girlfriends, ones he wrote my mom while they were engaged. Plus I have all the letters Dad became guardian of during his life: to his parents from his siblings, to Mom from her ­relations — on and on and on, chains and fardels of words. These letters are bad. No one is ever going to construct a riveting family narrative out of  “Drove down to Atlantic City last weekend. Weather was fine!”